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Checking in on the “tougher” Maple Leafs

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Photo credit:Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Steitzer
7 months ago
Snot. That is what Brad Treliving advertised with the additions of Tyler Bertuzzi, Max Domi, and Ryan Reaves. The hooting and hollering of Leafs fans could be heard down Bay Street as the broken record that plays over and over again in this market is that the Maple Leafs need to start playing with some edge or snot, and the roster overhaul the Leafs were undertaking would be change some of that image.
Six games into the season seems like as good a time as any to take a look at how the Maple Leafs are doing in regards to their quest for snot. And by the numbers, so far it looks like the Maple Leafs have kept their noses fairly clean.
The Leafs are presently averaging 19.67 (you can’t make that up) Hits per 60 minutes this season. That number is down from their 21.45 hits/60 last season and their 21.08 in 2021-22. During the playoffs last spring the Leafs were up to 40.41 hits/60. Toronto seems half as snotty as where they should be.
Of course, even with poorly tracked stats like hits, context is king and the Leafs are actually the 9th best team in the league when it comes to hits and that’s higher placement than we’ve seen from the Leafs in previous seasons. The question needs to be asked about what is either going on league wide with the hit counting or whether it is because its the early part of the season when refs still call closer to the rulebook having an impact on these numbers. Through their first six games last season the Leafs were averaging 27.38 hits/60, interestingly enough also good for 9th in the league at the time.
Leafs hits in 2023-24 through 6 games:
PlayerGPTOI/GPHitsHits/60
Ryan Reaves67:511417.84
Jake McCabe619:33126.13
Auston Matthews623:05125.19
Noah Gregor69:341111.49
Mark Giordano615:4985.05
John Tavares618:1984.36
Tyler Bertuzzi615:4774.43
TJ Brodie620:1062.97
William Nylander620:0862.98
Calle Jarnkrok614:4653.38
Morgan Rielly623:0452.16
Timothy Liljegren619:3752.54
David Kampf612:2854.01
Matthew Knies612:5953.85
John Klingberg620:3231.46
Max Domi613:0732.28
Fraser Minten411:2633.93
Mitchell Marner622:5420.87
Pontus Holmberg29:2713.17
When it comes to the penalty side of measuring toughness, it’s probably a good thing to see that the Leafs aren’t leading the league in penalties taken and are in fact 23rd in the league for penalty minutes taken per game at 9:50. They have a slightly favourable penalty differential at +1, and again if we are using fights as form of toughness, the Leafs have 3 fighting majors which puts them 5th in the league in that category.
A big part of what the Leafs were also hoping to achieve was that their players wouldn’t feel pushed around anymore and I measuring that is a bit more subjective. Well…this is all subjective, if there is any area of hockey goes on vibes more than any other it is probably team toughness. If we are looking at how to measure success in this regard it is probably that six games in the Leafs haven’t added anyone new to the LTIR and most of Toronto’s star players haven’t vacated the high danger areas of the offensive zone yet. The Maple Leafs getting through games against Corey Perry and Tom Wilson and injuries not becoming part of the story does seem like a step in the right direction so having players like Bertuzzi and Knies in the top six, Jake McCabe regularly on the ice, and Ryan Reaves as a nuclear deterrent could be making a difference with this team.
So with the Leafs hits down and with Toronto near the bottom of the league in penalties do you feel the Leafs are tougher? By my eyes I would say their attitude is slightly different post whistle, but I wouldn’t say beyond that this is a tougher team. Does it matter? Will it matter? The answer is probably that the Leafs are best to play to their strengths and have a more generalized “team toughness” game rather than relying on one or two mercenaries being brought in to make the difference for them.
Six games in is too early to know what the current Leafs are but it is unlikely that the toughness narrative will be one that goes away, in fact we have decades of evidence to the contrary. It will be interesting to see if the Leafs live up to the reputation Brad Treliving assigned to them.

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